EU water bombers join Greek firemen to douse island wildfire

The destructive fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday on Greece’s second-largest island, prompting the evacuation of four villages including Platana

Greece deployed Thursday nearly 400 firefighters backed by EU firebombers to try to put out a massive wildfire on the island of Evia burning through a pristine pine forest for a third day.

“We are more optimistic today because the winds have died down,” Yiorgos Kostopoulos, civil protection supervisor for Evia, told state TV ERT.

Firefighters managed to contain the  in a ravine near the village of Platana, backed by nearly 100 vehicles, nine helicopters and nine planes, including two from Italy and one from Spain.

“We are doing whatever we can to create additional fire defences near the village,” Kostopoulos said as a man dug a trench behind him.

“The forest has been totally destroyed,” local community head Dimitris Yiannoutsos told web TV Open of the 550-hectare mountain wildlife sanctuary of Agrilitsa.

The fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday on Greece’s second-largest island, prompting the evacuation of four villages including Platana.

EU Humanitarian Commissioner Christos Stylianides on Wednesday called the mobilisation of Greek forces “exemplary” after emergency crews managed to save inhabited areas.

A firefighter suffered burns on Tuesday after trying to cross the fire on a motorbike, and three cars belonging to campers were burned, a local mayor said.

But no other injuries or respiratory problems that required hospitalisation have been reported.

Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend, fanned by gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who cancelled his summer vacation and returned to Athens on Tuesday, called for the EU to further bolster fire assistance services.

Climate change ‘taking toll’

“Climate change is taking its toll on southern Europe and that is why it is imperative at European level to strengthen the EU rescue mechanism,” Mitsotakis said Wednesday.

He paid tribute to the fire crews coping with an average of 50 forest blazes daily.

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